13 February, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
When Jon walks in, Saed and Ulrich are both typing at their keyboards pretty furiously, although of course you have to look at Saed to know that he’s typing, whereas with Ulrich it seems like you ought to be able to hear him hitting the keys from outside in the parking lot, with your engine running. Neal is leaning back in his chair and frowning at a screen full of code, one hand at his chin as though wanting to stroke a nonexistent beard. Brian is standing up and looking out toward the parking lot. He turns as Jon walks in the door.
Jon stops and strikes a pose, leaning a shoulder on one door jamb with his arms crossed.
“Hello, girls,” he says. “Did you miss me?”
Without looking up, Ulrich responds instantly.
“If I look like a girl to you,” the big German says, “you have worse marital problems than I thought.”
“Now that,” Jon says, “is a low blow.”
“You wish,” Ulrich responds immediately, but Jon does not deign to respond to this as he walks by the big man’s seat.
“Nice of you to join us,” Saed says calmly, glancing around momentarily.
“How it’s going,” Brian Razkowski says, turning around and leaning back onto the window sill, “is that the Shinkawa wire bonder is hitting the edge of the pads on about one percent of the bonds. So that’s like 25 micrometers off, and they don’t like it.”
“I don’t blame ’em!” Jon walks toward Brian’s empty desk that has images of the wire bonds up on his screen: the tiny wires coming into focus as they arc down toward the bonding pads. The little circles of the bonds themselves, no more than thirty micrometers across, are clearly overlapping the edges of their target pads.
“But these aren’t images from the live bonders, right?” he asks, helping himself to a seat in Brian’s chair.
“No, of course not,” Brian says, his normally bland face showing some frustration. “They still can’t get those to us.”
“Neal,” Jon starts to ask, and then does a little double take before turning around fully in Brian’s chair. Not only has Neal turned around in his own chair, but Saed has also. At first Jon thinks that maybe they want to talk about the wire bonder problem, but it looks like they’re waiting for something to happen.
“What’s going on?”
“Jon,” Saed says, “do you ever read your email?” Then he looks at the door and rises out of his chair. “Ah, hello Haniel.”
Turning toward the bullpen’s only door, Jon sees that Haniel is standing there, holding a clipboard. And behind her is a radiant creature.
“Someone didn’t get the memo,” Haniel says with a raised eyebrow. “Maybe that’s something else we could use some help with. Jon, we are having an interview this morning.”
“Gentlemen,” Haniel says, “if that’s the right word, please meet Kate Spence.” She steps aside to let the radiant being come in. Kate Spence is blond, and has discovered a way in her twenty-three years on Earth to become intelligent while remaining innocent. “Kate,” Haniel continues, “is an administrative assistant at a local civil engineering firm. She was interested in a similar job here because she doesn’t know you gentlemen yet.”
“Saed Isfahani,” Saed says, stepping forward first, as always, and offering his hand.
“Kate Spence,” Kate says, taking Saed’s hand briefly and looking into his face like she might find one of the secrets of the universe there. Saed blinks, but recovers smoothly.
“And this,” Saed says, “Is Jon Dunham. Who, unfortunately, lacks the power of speech.”
Jon is by no means a stranger to members of the opposite sex, but right now it looks as though he hasn’t seen one before. He gradually remembers to offer his hand.
“Hi,” he says. “It’s Jon.”
“Ah,” Saed murmurs. “A miracle.” Which gets a laugh from Ulrich.
“Well,” Haniel says, “I’ll leave you all to get acquainted. But just a few minutes, OK? I have to take her up to see Mister Smith.”
When she returns ten minutes later, Haniel stands in the door and watches for a moment. Kate is seated now, as is everyone else, with the six chairs arranged in a rough ring around the perimeter of the room’s open area. It looks like they have all been working together for years.
“I take care of travel right now,” Kate is nods, “or,” she hesitates, “I did. But do you go to Japan?”
“Only to Detroit,” Neal says quietly. “Shinkawa has a development office at the Rouge River factory. We take turns, sometimes two at a time. But the victim stays until the problem gets fixed.”
“Yeah,” Brian chimes in. “Like, for a week.”
“And there is, of course, no real food,” Ulrich adds from his reversed chair. He is leaning on its back, and scowling mightily at the memory of being stuck at Rouge River. “Except for the vending machines. I am starting to think of Kit Kat bars as my vegetables.”
“But,” Kate looks at the big man, “all the best restaurants in Michigan are over there.”
“It would be an hour, you see,” Saed says, using his best Calm Voice of Reason and Experience, “just to get out of the facility and back in again.”
“Oh,” Kate nods. “We had the same problem in Traverse City. All you have to do is put a few of their delivery people on part time salary so they can get a security clearance through your company, then have them bring food in for you. Catered, basically. Have them set it up right in your work area, so you don’t have to bother the main company about getting you a clearance for the cafeteria. People do it all the time. You have to eat, you know,” Kate frowns.
“Excuse me, I’m afraid I have to take her away, gentlemen,” Haniel says from the doorway. “For now.”
After the sound of the two women’s footsteps have faded down the hall, Saed looks at Jon.
“Well, Jon, tell us,” Saed says innocently. “What did you think?”
Neal smiles gently, Brian grins, and Ulrich laughs like an idiot.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Jon says, smiling. “But seriously, gentlemen,” he nods toward the empty door. “I think we found our Wendy.”